Hello. My name is Jala Jones. I don’t know why my parents decided to give me a name that sounds like an Old Earth comic book character, but I’m not changing it now. And anyway, these days most people just call me…
The Queen of Space.
Jala Jones, Queen of Space
Ha! Hey look at that! I just did a text version of a cold open! That’s pretty cool.
Anyway, I wasn’t always queen of space, you know. And it was a long road from being the only child of two of the galaxy’s wealthiest people to being the queen and ruler of all space. It’s a great story, and nobody ever asks me to tell it, unless I order them to. And that’s no fun. So now I’m going to write it all down. Or, well, dictate it to this cute robot. The robot can write it down.
Anyway, it all started when I turned forty two and my mom announced that it was time I made a name for myself. She and dad had built their company, Larry Antares Shipping, up from just Dad and a single star freighter into the largest interstellar hauler in the galaxy.
“So your father and I feel that the best thing for you to do now is go out and make a name for yourself,” Mom said when she kicked me out. Well, gave me the keys to an apartment on the next planet over, and my own freighter. Same thing.
“A better name than ‘Jala Jones’?” I asked, sarcastically.
“Now dear, Jala Jones is a name with character and personality.” Dad said. He was going over the company finances, because of course he was he always was. That was his job. For the past hundred years he’d been the Chief Financial Officer of LAS, as well as the co-founder.
“And let’s face it, Jala dear, your degree in Anime Astrophysics, while undoubtedly enlightening and good for your soul, isn’t exactly bringing jobs to your door,” Mom said.
“Doctorate in Anime Astrophysics,” I corrected.
“Yes, yes, very impressive, Doctor Jones,” Mom said with a little smile. “But we think it’s time you got a real job. So we’re giving you one. As a hauler.”
“Mom, I don’t want to be a hauler. That means I have to haul stuff and…and go to loading moons and….yuck!”
“Your father was a hauler for decades and is a better man for it,” Mom said. And I kinda sunk inside. She was using her super reasonable voice. I hate that voice. So we argued a bit more, but in the end, yeah, I became Jala Jones, Space Hauler.
Chapter 1: Jala Jones, Space Hauler
That’s really fun! I like speaking in titles.
Anyway, let’s jump forward a few days. Here I am, on my hauler, looking at my first “assignment”. I’m supposed to pick up some Megapuppies and take them to Arcturus. Considering my hauler could hold over seven thousand cubic meters of goods, one of the following three things was true, and none of them were good:
Megapuppies were huge, meaning they’d make huge messes and need huge amounts of huge food.
I was carrying a lot of megapuppies, which would make a lot of messes and still need huge amounts of food, or
I was going to lose money on the trip.
And I didn’t like any of those options.
“Actually, your cargo bay has bio-stasis capabilties, so you shouldn’t have to worry about taking care of the megapuppies,” said Kibbet.
Kibbet has just told me that a lot of people don’t know who he is, so I’ll explain. I’d put a picture in, but Kibbet tells me that pictures are really expensive to download over the InterGalactiNet. Like, one picture apparently costs as much as one thousand words, so I’ll just describe him.
Kibbet was genetically engineered in one of Daddy’s labs to be the perfect pet for a young girl going to college. Imagine a firefox; you know, a red panda. Now imagine it has six legs. And bat wings. And huge, shimmering, green, faceted eyes. And can talk. Now imagine that whole thing can fly and also has an IQ higher than most college graduates. Got it? Okay, now imagine it’s super cute and you’ve got Kibbet. He’s a super sweet darling cutie and I once fired my Minister of Imperial Finance for saying otherwise. Which is how Kibbet got his job as Minister of Imperial Finance. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Let’s go back to me and Kibbet on my freighter, my very first day.
“Ugh, fine, So I don’t need to feed them,” I said. “But are they huge? Am I taking three megapuppies or thousands?”
“They’re about twice as big as me,” Kibbet said, “And we’re only hauling three hundred. But the cost per megapuppy is sufficient that we’ll make a decent profit on this run.”
“Well that doesn’t sound so bad. So what do we do? Just wait for the loading guys to put them in the cargo hold and then fly them to Arcturus?”
“The dockworkers will bring them to the loading dock, but it’s our crew’s job to get them on board.” Kibbet said, looking over the shipping manifest while hovering at eye level.
“We don’t have a crew.”
“We have you and the robots.”
“And you, Kibbet. Are the puppies already in bio-whatever?”
“But they’re in cages, right?”
“Yeah, but you can’t have the cages,” said the dock worker. (see what I did there? it’s like a smash cut, but in words!) “Them cages belong to the docking moon.”
“Okay, well, we’ll just take the megapuppies and load them into bio-stasis one by one.” I said. It was going to take forever, but what are you gonna do?
“Nah, ain’t got time for that sweetheart,” the dock worker said, and flipped a switch. All three hundred cages popped open. Three hundred megapuppies came bounding out.
Have you ever seen a megapuppy? They’re, like, a special kind of dog that’s bred to be super cute, and to stay super cute forever. They’re basically always puppies, even when they’re old. and they live to be like, seventy. But these were puppy megapuppies, meaning they were all energy and tails and lots of yapping and licking.
Our friendly dock worker shut the door and left us in there, just us and the puppies in the loading bay. And the puppies decided it was time to claim some territory. I didn’t think I’d ever get that ship clean.
“Kibbet! What do we do? How do we get them into stasis? Kibbet?” I yelled as the puppies marked the ship and everything they could find and ran and barked and did all the things that Kibbet never did. I grabbed two, one under each arm, and hauled them close to the glowing blue edge of the bio-stasis field, where the robots were waiting. I pushed the two puppies across the edge and they went limp, instantly asleep. The robots, who aren’t bio so don’t go into stasis, hauled them into place and returned waiting for more.
“Kibbet! Help me!”
“Are you kidding, Jala? They outweigh me two to one! I don’t have the wing strength,” Kibbet said from his perch on the roof of the ship.
“Well, then, maybe try to herd them into the stasis field!”
“Jala, dogs herd sheep, They aren’t herded by…by me!” Kibbet pointed out.
“Get. Down. Here. NOW.” I pointed out. Kibbet flew down. And the puppies found their new favorite toy ever.
“They’re going to tear my wings off!” he yelled, but I had a good idea. “Kibbet, fly into the stasis field!”
“I’ll go into stasis!”
“Sure, but the robots can toss you back out! And the puppies will follow you!”
“You do it!” Kibbet shouted.
“They don’t like me as much!”
It was kinda fun watching Kibbet skim low over the puppies, then head into the stasis field, where a robot would catch him. Most of the time. I told him the robots always caught him. But I didn’t have time to stand there watching. I was trying to gather and herd the megappupies to the edge of the field. Once or twice my hand cross the field, which felt terrible, like having all your nerves go to sleep. I didn’t tell Kibbet that either. I told him it was no big deal.
Two hours later the last megappupy was stored in bio-stasis, and I had launch clearance. Kibbet was still complaining of a headache from going in and out of stasis that many times. (and hitting the bulkhead once when the robots didn’t catch him) The robots cleaned up the ship, inside and out, and the dock worker said we had to clean the loading by as well. We didn’t. We just opened the door and flew out and figured decompression would do the rest.
Two days later we were en route to Arcturus. Truth to tell, once we had the puppies on board being a hauler was kinda nice. The ship knows where to go and so Kibbet and I played games and read and slept and watched movies and there were still four days to go before we got there. So we were hanging out in the lounge (oh,yeah, my freighter had a lounge. It’s a really really big freighter) and I asked Kibbet why the megapuppies were so expensive.
“well, they’re the result of literally thousands of years of breeding programs,” he said.
“Sure, but so are you.”
“I am not! I’m the result of some very specific gene splicing, and I assure you, I’m far more expensive than those balls of drool.”
“Don’t get defensive! I’m not looking for a new pet, Kibbet. I just want to know why people in Arcturus are willing to pay so much for puppies. Don’t they have any puppies of their own there?”
“Well, I gather they’re something of a local delicacy…” Kibbet began.
“What? A local what? Something of a what? What kind of delicacy?” I said, covering all my bases.
“Some…some people think they’re fairly…tasty.” Kibbet could see I wasn’t in the mood. He switched from explainy flying pet to worried fliying pet in an instant.
“Jala, where are you going? What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Who do you think you are?” He said, covering all of his bases.
“I’m not flying six days across a quarter of the galactic disc to deliver…puppy Popsicles!”
“It’s your contract! You signed it! The buyers have already paid for them!”
“Well, we’ll give them their money back. Or Mom’s company will. Or something. We’re going to find a planet…”
“Where you can raise three hundred puppies as your very own?”
“No! Where I can set up shop.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’m gonna sell those puppies to good homes.”
Chapter 2: Jala Jones’ Megapuppy Adoption Agency
“Jala, do you have any idea what this is going to cost the company?” Mom was asking me over the comms.
“How much were you selling those puppies for?” I asked, already en route to another system, far from Arcturus.
“Immaterial. The breach of contract lawsuit, the extra fuel…”
“Have Daddy send me the total amount I need to make to come out ahead on all of that and I’ll make it.” I said. I was using my super-reasonable voice now. Mom hates it as much as I do. She was about to argue when somebody said something off screen. “What? Yes but…The principle…Jala, hold on.” She muted her microphone and I saw her talking.
Finally she came back. “Jala, your Father says that if you can make one hundred fifty thousand credits you will have come out ahead on this deal.”
“Five thousand per puppy? What were the cooks gonna pay?”
“Three hundred. and you need to make five hundred per puppy,” Mom said, looking slightly pained.
“Okay. I can do that. Okay. Fine. Jala out.”
“Not quite, Jala. You need that money by the end of the local month.”
“I need to sell ten puppies per day for a month. Okay. Fine. NOW, Jala out”
So, I don’t know if you’ve ever had to sell three hundred puppies, but here’s how you do it. First, you find a planet with a lot of families, but also money. Your best bet is a planet that’s been settled for about two hundred years or so, so the locals have gotten down to having an economy and raising kids and stuff. Then you fly over the planet a few times and beam down messages about how megapuppies are the best possible gift for whatever local holiday is coming up. It works better if you know the name of the local holiday. Then you land in a couple of the major cities, thaw out five or ten puppies and let people see them running around like cute crazies.
In this way I was able to sell two hundred ninety five of the puppies. But somehow, not the last five. I don’t know what law of economics makes it so a planet of ten million people reaches total megappupy market saturation at two hundred ninety five, but that law seemed immutable.
I walked into the hold where Kibbet and the robots were playing with the last five. They were bouncing around, jumping and barking and basically being puppies.
“What do we do with these ones, Kibbiet?”
“They’re pretty cute,” He said, flying just out of range and ahead of them. The puppies lined up and jumped to reach him, running in a tight circle that had a bump in it where he was hovering. And that gave me an idea.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Solaritus Six, but if you have you might have heard of Dan Seeburg and his Puppy Pals. turns out a little training goes a long way.
Any way, with a full three days to spare I deposited the full amount in the company bank account and called Mom.
“Mission accomplished, boss.”
“Not bad, Jala. Not bad. But you need to get to Arcturus now.”
“Because that’s where your next cargo is waiting for you. And no side trips this time. It’s time you started doing this job right.”
And with that, I began my career as a space hauler, for real this time.